The NBA is rife with talent from all over North America, and more recently the entire world. There is one place which is considered to be “The Mecca of basketball” however, and this is New York City. The Big Apple lives and breathes basketball, and unsurprisingly this means that plenty of the top players to grace the hardwood first honed their skills in the playgrounds and gyms of New York. Players from NYC have a certain attitude and style unlike any other player, and this is typically a confident, hard working, physical yet flashy style which translates well into the NBA (and particularly the slower paced Eastern conference).
Basketball is an enormous part of many children’s lives in NYC, and for many of them it is a pathway to a better and more financially stable life for them and their family. Of course not too many make it to the pros, and there are dozens of stories of world-class players who would dazzle on the street but never quite make it to the pros. This means that the standard in New York is very high, and this is true whether you are playing at a small park, on the world famous West Fourth Street Courts (The Cage) or Rucker Park, at one of the many top high schools such as Power Memorial Academy, at a University such as St. John’s, or playing against the Knicks (OK, maybe not the Knicks).
Some of the best talent the NBA has seen has emerged from NYC over the years, and you could certainly create a formidable team out of this crop of players. Here are the top 15 players to come from The Big Apple (born, raised and developed their game there).
15 Kenny Anderson
As this list demonstrates, there are many incredible NYC players who starred in high school but never quite made the impact they were expected to once they made the pros. This is very much the case for Queens native Kenny Anderson, who many claim to be the greatest high school PG of all time. He became the first player named All-City 4 times and was named New York State Mr. Basketball and High School Basketball Player of the Year. Anderson set the record for scoring in NY, but this was later broken by Sebastian Telfair (another star PG who has struggled in the pros). He went on to play two years at Georgia Tech where he helped them to the Final Four, before becoming the 2nd pick in the 1991 NBA draft for the Nets.
He became an All-Star in his 3rd year after averaging 18.8 PPG and 9.6 APG, but this would prove to be the highlight of his pro career. Like many others, becoming a multi millionaire at a young age caused its problems and Anderson filed for bankruptcy in 2005 due to his lavish lifestyle and child support payments.
14 Metta World Peace
He may have become more famous for his off-court actions in recent years, but it should not be forgotten that Metta World Peace/Ron Artest is one tough customer on the hardwood. He is one of the best defenders of his generation, has incredible strength and he worked hard to become an offensive threat over his career. He of course also has a knack for getting under people's skin, but too often this would boil over into trouble for Artest which made him a liability. Artest was born in Queens in a rough area, which he claims is what led him to play his well known tough brand of basketball. He played at La Salle Academy and became New York’s Co-Player of the Year. He then played locally at St John’s before being drafted by the Bulls in 1999.
13 Rod Strickland
NYC is famous for producing top point guards, and this includes Rod Strickland, or “Hot Rod”, as he was also known. He may have played college ball at DuPaul, but he is NYC through and through and honed his skills on the streets of the Bronx. He became a high school star and led his team to a state championship as a junior. He was ranked one of the top 10 high school recruits in the country and would transfer to the prestigious Oak Hill Academy in his senior year. After three years of college, Hot Rod would then be selected by his home town team in the 1988 NBA draft. He enjoyed a lengthy 17 years in the NBA and played for several teams, and he led the league in assists in 1998 with 10.5 per game (to go along with 17.8 PPG). He has since been inducted into the NYC Basketball Hall of Fame and is an assistant coach for the South Florida Bulls.
12 Stephon Marbury
A classic NY point guard, Marbury was a standout player from a very young age. He was born and raised in Coney Island where he honed his skills before playing at Abraham Lincoln High School, where he excelled and became New York State Mr. Basketball. There was a huge amount of hype at this time, with most New Yorkers expecting him to become their next big star. He played one season at Georgia Tech before declaring, and he would be selected with the 4th pick by the Bucks before being traded to the Timberwolves in 1996. Here he formed a successful and entertaining duo with Kevin Garnett, before being traded to the Nets where he became an All-Star. He went on to play at the Suns, before being traded to his hometown to play for the Knicks in 2004. After a turbulent few years with the Knicks in disarray, Marbury was later traded to the Celtics and has now gone on to enjoy a successful career in the CBA with the Beijing Ducks. He may not have reached the heights many anticipated, but Starbury is a legendary NYC PG and frequently showed his brilliance in the NBA.
11 Billy Cunningham
Nicknamed “The Kangaroo Kid” thanks to an extraordinary leap, Billy Cunningham is a Brooklyn native and developed his skills at Erasmus Hall High School where he became a member of the Parade Magazine All-America Team. He then went on to excel at UNC, where he set a Tar-Heels record with 48 points in a single game and averaged 24.8 PPG and 15.4 RPG in his college career. Having established quite a reputation, Cunningham then signed with the Philadelphia 76ers. Here he formed one of the all-time great teams alongside Wilt Chamberlain, Hal Greer, Luke Jackson and Chet Walker. They won the NBA title in the 1966-67 season, but after Chamberlain’s departure it enabled Cunningham to become the go-to player and he then averaged 24.8 PPG and 12.8 RPG. Cunningham later retired a 4x All-Star and was selected to the All-NBA First team three times, and although his jersey is retired in Philadelphia he remains one of the all-time great NYC players.
10 Roger Brown
Roger Brown is one of NYC’s greatest talents, yet not too many fans will know his name. Hailing from Brooklyn, Brown was a high school star at George W. Wingate High School and rival to Connie Hawkins. The two faced off in the semi finals of a famous NYC Public Schools Athletic League tournament in 1960 at MSG, and Brown dropped 37 points in a legendary performance. Brown got a scholarship to the University of Dayton, but his and Hawkins’ reputation soon became tarnished after accepting favours from Jack Molinas, who was banned from the NBA for betting on games and had paid both college and pro players to shave points. Consequently, they were blacklisted from the NBA. Brown found himself playing for the Pacers in the ABA where he became a star and led them to three titles. Although the ban was eventually lifted, Brown stayed loyal to the ABA whilst his former rival made the jump. Speaking of Connie Hawkins…
9 Connie Hawkins
A player of legendary status, Connie Hawkins rose to fame through showing his skills on the playgrounds of NYC. Players like Michael Jordan and Dr. J will have been inspired by the antics of Hawkins, who would amaze crowds with soaring dunks and wizardry with the ball. A Brooklyn native, Hawkins was able to dunk at just 11 years old and there was plenty of hype surrounding the youngster. He would go on to study at Iowa before playing with the Harlem Globetrotters, as well as in a few small leagues. He played a season for the Pittsburgh Rens of the ABL, and he would be named MVP after that campaign. Hawkins then played for the Pittsburgh Pipers in the ABA where he would win a championship and MVP award, and he finally got a shot in the NBA at age 27 with the Phoenix Suns. He would impress over the next seven years, and was elected into the Hall of Fame in 1992.
8 Dolph Schayes
Often credited as being the first forward and one of the first stars of the NBA, Dolph Schayes was born in the Bronx in 1928. He helped his high school team to a championship before playing at New York University, when he won the Haggerty Award, was an All-American and played against Notre Dame in a sell-out game at MSG. He opted to play for the Syracuse Nationals in the NBL, and here he would play for 16 years. The NBA formed and Schayes won Rookie of the Year, and in 1951 he led the league in both points and rebounds. He led his team to an NBA championship in 1955, and has since been elected into the Hall of Fame. His son, Danny Schayes, played in the NBA for 18 years but bounced around the league unlike Dolph who remained in New York.
7 Lenny Wilkens
Brooklyn born Lenny Wilkens has had an extraordinary career in basketball, seeing him inducted into the Hall of Fame as a player, coach and assistant coach. His playing career begun at Boys High School where he would excel before playing at Providence, where he became a two time All-American. He was selected 6th by the St. Louis Hawks in the 1960 draft, where he stayed for eight years before joining the Seattle Supersonics, and it is here where he became a player-coach and improved the team’s record each season. Next up was Cleveland and finally Portland, and he would retire as a player a 9x All-Star.
Then he began his lengthy coaching career, which saw him win his (and Seattle’s) only championship in 1979. Only Don Nelson has won more games as a coach than Wilkens, but the New Yorker also endured a rough time at the helm of his hometown Knicks in 2004.
6 Mark Jackson
As he will tell you, Mark Jackson is New York through and through. He was born in Brooklyn and it is on the streets, as well as high school, where he quickly became one of the top prospects in the country. He became a star point guard at St. John’s University, and in 1987 he would be selected it by, you guessed it, the Knicks with the 18th pick. He earned Rookie of the Year playing alongside Charles Oakley and Patrick Ewing, turning the Knicks into a tough team. He went on to play for numerous teams and became an elite PG known for his passing ability, and he currently sits 4th in the all-time assists list. He never achieved a huge amount of success, but he remains one of the top PG’s the league has seen and is a NYC legend. Since hanging up his boots he has become a key and popular analyst for ABC alongside Mike Breen and Jeff Van Gundy, and he also coached the Warriors between 2011 and 2014.
5 Nate Archibald
Nate “Tiny” Archibald is a New York and NBA legend, becoming the only player to lead the league in both scoring and assists in the same season with a breathtaking 34 PPG and 11.4 APG in 1972-73. Before he was dominating on the hardwood in the NBA, Archibald was dazzling on the courts around the Bronx. He became a high school star and worked hard academically to improve his chances of earning a scholarship, and he would play 1 year at Arizona Western College before transferring to the University of Texas El Paso where he averaged over 20 PPG each year. He was then picked in the 2nd round of the 1970 draft. Many passed on Archibald due to his small size, but he would prove doubters wrong by dominating through his scoring and passing ability. In his successful career he became a 6x All-Star and 3x All-NBA First Team in addition to leading the league in scoring and assists, and in 1981 he became an NBA champion with the Celtics playing alongside Larry Bird.
Not one to forget his NYC roots, Archibald helps to run community programmes and homeless shelters in the Bronx.
4 Chris Mullin
Chris Mullin is a NYC legend and a player that excelled at every level. Known for being a gym rat, Mullins was born in Brooklyn and studied the game from a young age, and he would travel to areas all over NYC to play against the best. He became New York State’s Mr Basketball and would be recruited to St John’s. Here he became an unstoppable force, earning Big East Player of the Year award three times as well as earning the Wooden Award and USBWA College Player of the Year. He played in the gold medal winning 1984 Olympic team and is one of just three players to win the Haggerty Award three times. He finished St John’s as their all-time leading scorer, and was then selected 7th in the 1985 draft by the Warriors.
Mullin became a force to be reckoned with in the NBA, averaging 18.2 PPG, 4.1 RPG and 3.5 APG in 16 seasons. He was a 5x All-Star and All-NBA First Team in 1992. He worked in front office positions for a few years, but earlier this year he headed back home to take the head coach position at the place he became a star, St. Johns University.
3 Bernard King
One of the greatest scorers to emerge from the Big Apple, Bernard King has influenced dozens of players in today’s game with prolific scoring from the Small Forward position. It all began in Brooklyn, where he became one of the top players in the country during his time at Fort Hamilton High School. He went on to the University of Tennessee, before being picked 7th by the Nets in 1977. It did not take him long to adjust, averaging 24.2 PPG in his rookie campaign. He amazed crowds with his high flying and explosiveness, but he also struggled with off-court issues which saw him bounce around the league. Whilst playing for his home town team in the 1984-85 season, King won the scoring title with a massive 32.9 PPG and scored 50+ in two consecutive games. He unfortunately suffered an ACL tear during his prime, but he managed to make a comeback and maintained a high level for a few years before retiring in 1993. King retired a 4x All-Star, 2x All-NBA First Team, 16th on the All-Time scoring list and a New York hero.
2 Bob Cousy
Bob Cousy may be a legend over in Beantown thanks to his key role in bringing six Championships to the Celtics, but he is also a New Yorker born and raised in Manhattan. Cousy was raised in a multicultural environment, and this had a large impact on him during his playing career as he had a strong anti-racist sentiment and fought for the rights of his fellow players. He began playing basketball in high school, and after breaking his hand he was forced to play left handed which is what made him such a great ball handler. He would win the NYC scoring title in his senior year, before taking up a scholarship at The College of Holy Cross, where he won a championship in 1947.
Cousy would then end up in Boston, where he became the first elite point guard and was a large part of the Celtics dynasty in the late 50s and early 60s which saw him pick up his six rings.
1 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
When you think of NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, most fans will immediately think of the Lakers where he spent 14 seasons and won five of his six NBA titles. It was actually in NYC that Abdul-Jabbar emerged, having been born in New York in 1947. He started playing sports at an early age and was already much taller than his peers, ensuring that he dominated at Power Memorial Academy. Here he led his team to 71 straight victories and three city titles whilst setting records in both scoring and rebounding. Thanks to his astonishing abilities and size, his team were named “The no.1 High School Team of the Century”.
After graduating, Abdul-Jabbar made the move to the West Coast where he played at UCLA (where he would also dominate). He went on to be the 1st pick and win a title at Milwaukee, before donning the famous purple and gold and teaming up with Magic Johnson to form an unstoppable Laker team. He is unquestionably one of the all-time greats and one of the most successful players, but before dominating with the Lakers he was representing New York and is the greatest player to emerge from The Big Apple.